A Data-Informed Approach to Workplace Violence Prevention

April 4, 2018 Guest Author

Where does healthcare rank in terms of high-risk workplaces?

According to international data on the risk of workplace violence for healthcare professionals, it’s likely near the top of the list. In fact, a study from Monash University reports that almost 70 percent of Victorian nurses, midwives and carers have experienced some type of violence at work in the last year. Almost 25 percent experienced violence on a regular basis.

Statistics like these are consistent across the Australia and New Zealand. The common thread? Workplace violence disproportionately affects healthcare workers.

However, not all staff or spaces are affected equally. According to an article in the Australian Emergency Nursing Journal, psychiatric and emergency settings are considered high-risk areas, with nurses experiencing violence most frequently.

However, the risk of violence is not limited to one area. In a 2017 Work Safe Australia panel discussion, Tiffany Plummer, a registered nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital and chair of its Aggression Prevention and Management Committee said, “It’s important to remember when these people come through emergency they get admitted and they go upstairs and so their aggression or clinical aggression continues, not just in the [the emergency department] … it doesn’t stop at the door.”

This means that it’s effects also echo through a healthcare organisation. Violence takes a toll on many levels. It directly affects the emotional and physical well-being of healthcare professionals that experience violence and their peers. The impact is lasting; it lingers on wards and in departments and affects the quality of care and patient satisfaction. Beyond that, it can also contribute to increased health costs.      

So how can healthcare organisations work to address the complexity of workplace violence?

In short, the solution is almost as multifaceted as the problem itself. First, organisations must understand the factors within its population and facilities that contribute to incidents of workplace violence. Propensity for violence is impacted by a variety of factors: patient, worker, workplace, environmental and social.

Some are obvious – shortages of security staff, worker exposure to patients with histories of violence or those under the influence or experiencing drug or alcohol withdrawal. Other factors are more nuanced; poor lighting in parking lots or walkways can put staff at risk and seemingly innocuous experiences like long wait times can also contribute to violence.

Isolating an organisations individual factors can be easier said than done, however. One of the greatest challenges to addressing workplace violence in the lack of information about it. Health staff rarely report violent incidents. Some may believe that violence, whether it’s verbal or physical, is part of the job. Or it might be unclear what constitutes a violent event. Others may assume that their reports will not translate into action, or that they may be interpreted by supervisors as a sign of weakness.

Encouraging conversations and reports of workplace violence is a vital first step. Information from staff who experience violence or who fear violence on the job can help identify key contributing factors that can be used to improve safety and security. One RL client, North Shore Medical Center, has used a combination of approaches to boost staff reporting into RL6:Risk and translate the information it gathers into improved safety measures, under it’s zero tolerance policy. More information on North Shore’s approach to workplace violence prevention can be found in the whitepaper, Making the Problem Human: Journey to Workplace Violence Prevention.

Coming soon in RL6

Currently, healthcare organisations using RL6:Risk can customise a form to capture workplace violence information. However, in the upcoming 6.7.2 release, reporting violent incidents will be easier than ever before for healthcare staff. Additions will allow system administrators to configure employee, safety/security, restraints and professional conduct forms with an additional section to track and trend workplace violence events.

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